Coursework is key to your degree and while sometimes it feels like you’re pulling words like teeth and watching the word count slowly tick up, it is far more enjoyable when you are well-equipped with information and advice to tackle the task. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your assessed work, so that you can present it in the best way possible with the minimal amount of stress.
The best way to end up with a beautiful piece of coursework is to start early - get a good idea of the topic you’d like and roughly what you want to say - and plan it. For a traditional written essay, you need a well-organised, solid structure which makes your argument clear from the start and supports it point by point throughout, with plenty of sound evidence. Talk to your tutor if you’re unsure about what’s expected of you, and discuss what will need to be done.
Before you start writing, if you haven’t already, read the style guide given to you by your course tutors. This will outline exactly what they expect, where you will gain or lose marks, how to format your footnotes and bibliography, and hopefully have a mark scheme in the back (get your hands on one of these right away and keep referring back to it!).
Procrastination is the ultimate student bugbear, but there are plenty of ways to battle it. Experiment to find out what works for you - you might fit all your work into a continuous 9-5 day so that you can relax afterwards, or work late into the night when inspiration hits, or power through in short bursts of productivity. If you find yourself straying to Facebook and Twitter, try SelfControl (selfcontrolapp.com) to block the websites you spend too much time on for a specified period of time. There’s no way to access them during lockdown, even if you reset your computer! F.lux (justgetflux.com) saves your eyes by gradually taking the blue light from your screen as the sun sets, and to improve your concentration you could try the Pomodoro technique - 25 minutes hammering away at your work, then 5 minutes’ break. Find more ideas for avoiding procrastination here: 11 ways to beat procrastination (www.studentmoneysaver.co.uk/article/11-ways-to-beat-procrastination)
While you draft your coursework, particularly if it’s assessed, constantly bear in mind that plagiarism is taken very seriously at university and your work will be checked. Don’t copy chunks of text off the Internet, and while long quotes should be avoided, if you do use them, then cite their sources very clearly and obviously. Any idea that you didn’t come up with should be footnoted, as must any kind of quote or specialist fact. If you’re not too hot on referencing, then check your style guide, or try an app like RefME, which automatically creates references for you when you scan the article title or book barcode (there’s a wide variety of referencing styles to choose from, too). (link - http://www.studentmoneysaver.co.uk/refme/).
Watch your language! Make sure your tone and choice of words is appropriate for the person who will be reading your work. A good tip is to imagine your audience as an interested newcomer to the topic with only a little background information - explain specialist terms clearly and succinctly, link your points together well so the reader can follow, and make your argument strongly. Equally, don’t be tempted to use complicated words and phrases just to show off, as it will often backfire. Your work will be easier and more pleasant to read if the language you use is suitable and relevant.
Edit, edit, edit
Once you’ve bashed out your piece and redrafted it within an inch of its life, give it a day or two’s space to gain a bit of distance. Then read it through over and over. Do one edit to check that it makes sense, with no contradictions or repetitions and ensure that you’re not labouring the point. Then read through it again, as closely as you can, to pick up typos and grammar mistakes. Finally, check that your footnotes are formatted properly and all in the same style, and make sure your bibliography is complete with entries categorised and in the right order. Check that your style is consistent - and it sounds obvious, but check the font is the same throughout!
Finally, this is a tip especially aimed at dissertation-writers, particularly at postgraduate level when you’re producing epic theses, or fashion and art students needing a fabulously creative presentation of the final portfolio. Once you’ve finished writing, checking and re-checking, send it off in plenty of time to get bound for submission. If you’re presenting a large piece of work, binding will make it more readable and impressive than staples or treasury tags. Take a look through the Student Bookbinding blog to see how others have presented theirs, and look for more inspiration elsewhere online.
With these ideas and pieces of advice you should be well set to start thinking positively about your coursework. Keep motivated, and good luck!